Jun 7, 2023 - Politics

Philadelphia mayoral candidate wants to debate

Photo illustration of David Oh and Sherelle Parker inside of a television.

Photo Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: City Council Philadelphia, Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

Republican mayoral nominee David Oh wants Democrat Cherelle Parker to commit to a series of debates ahead of the general election in November.

Driving the news: Oh, a former council member, tells Axios he'd like the two to engage in at least five televised debates, preferably in different council districts.

  • Oh said he'd send a letter to Parker's camp, presenting more details.

Why it matters: Now that the field has narrowed, it's important for voters to hear from both candidates on issues ranging from policing to education before deciding on Philly's 100th mayor.

Flashback: Parker won a hard-fought Democratic primary, beating out technocrat Rebecca Rhynhart and progressive stalwart Helen Gym in the city's most expensive mayor's race. Oh ran unopposed.

What they're saying: Oh tells Axios that Parker could get away with not debating an "unknown, unsupported Republican." But not someone who is a former prosecutor and city lawmaker.

  • "There's one thing about Philadelphians. They don't like someone who ducks," he says.

The other side: "We will consider each debate invitation as it comes," campaign spokesperson Aren Platt told Axios. "But at this stage, we are only focused on talking directly to voters."

  • Parker wouldn't commit to debating Oh last month when Axios asked about the possibility during her first post-primary news conference. She said she'd have to run "parameters" of a potential debate by her team before deciding.

Zoom in: Mayor Jim Kenney didn't debate GOP candidate Bill Ciancaglini in 2019.

  • Political analyst Mustafa Rashed tells Axios that there are few risks for Parker in debating Oh, even as the odds-on favorite in a city where registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans.

Yes, but: Television still "drives the needle" in mayoral races, and Parker could use the forums as a "listening tour" to firm up support among undecided voters, Rashed said.

  • For Oh, it provides a platform, which addresses an earlier complaint that he didn't receive equal coverage during the primary and was only being invited to a single televised event.

The bottom line: "This is an opportunity to give the city a new civic lesson. It would remind people that, yes, in reality, this is a two-party town," Rashed said. "It's not a coronation."


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